April 15-August 2, 2014
Just next to our fruit stand was a small grocery store that despite its size was one of the better stocked shops in Aswan. It was convenient so we found ourselves shopping there often. Tourism was down in Egypt and had been for quite some time. I always waved and said hello to any other foreigner we saw.
We were buying snacks one night at our grocery store when we saw another foreigner. After smiling at each other a few times, Nanette struck up a conversation with us. Originally from Australia by way of the UK, she’d been living in Aswan for the past year. We’d only been in Aswan for a few weeks by then and Nanette was the first of a number of ex-pats we would go on to meet.
Nanette was building a house in a village just outside of Aswan. She was eventually planning to turn it into a small guesthouse. Construction had been started many months ago and was dragging on and on. There was always another new complication to delay things. Now, she could see the end in sight and was supposed to move in a few weeks.
Similar to our visa story, every week she was told that the house would be ready in two more weeks. We were hoping to get to visit her new house before we left, but it was completed just in time for her to move in on our last day there.
Nanette introduced us to one of her local friends, Hussein. At the same time as he was studying for his final university exams, he was also working in his older brother’s store. Mahmoud sold everything and anything needed for a bedroom–pajamas, sheets, towels, blankets. In the evenings it was full of Egyptian ladies shopping in preparation for an upcoming marriage or to update their houses for the end of Ramadan.
There was a koshary restaurant that we liked near the store, so we often found ourselves stopping in to chat with Hussein or Mahmoud. The first question was always what would we like to drink. Nothing was not an accepted answer, so we would watch the busy souk scene while sipping our cool karkaday drinks. During Ramadan, Mahmoud would send out his little nephew for sandwiches to break the fast, always including us in his order.
After we bemoaned the shortage of restaurant options to Nanette, she and Hussein brought us out to Dokka. It’s a restaurant on an island in the Nile that offers a free ferry service to the corniche. The food wasn’t memorable, but the setting certainly made up for it. We chose to sit on the outdoor patio that was decorated with trees and gentle lighting and we watched dusk settle over Aswan and the occasional boat passing by. There was a special treat that night of traditional music played by a single musician on a traditional strigned instrument called an ‘oud’.
Nanette also introduced us to Esmoa, a local pizza joint with a small salad bar. It became one of our favorite dinner places for a few weeks until they unexpectedly raised the prices one night. My theory was that they did this because I ate there with another tourist (male) from our hotel one night while Scott stayed in bed because he wasn’t feeling well.
One of our last dinners at Esmoa was with Nanette and Mark, another tourist we’d met in the streets.. He’d met another Australian living in Aswan, Michele. We were hoping he could arrange a meeting between Nanette and Michele. Of course, we also wanted to meet Michele so we could expand our small circle of friends in Aswan.
We mentioned that we’d wanted to take a ride in a feluca, a traditional Egyptian sailboat. Walking along the corniche, there’s always a few guys offering feluca rides but we were hesitant to accept those offers. It turned out Nanette had two friends, Meidou and Mohammed, who owned a boat. This seemed like a much better option to arrange our feluca ride through them.
One of Aswan’s famous sights are the botanical gardens, located on another island in the Nile. Nanette had never been there so we decided to take the feluca to enjoy the gardens and then have a sunset cruise along the Nile. It was pleasant enough walking around the botanical gardens, but the real treat was the feluca.
It felt like we were on a moving couch, not a boat. The whole passenger area was essentially a big mattress and we were given cushions so we could recline. Tea, coffee, cold drinks, fruits – Meidou and Mohammed had thought of everything. Luckily there was wind and we cruised down the Nile, relaxing and watching the sun go down.
We’d enjoyed the first ride so much, that we wanted to take a second one. This time, we just wanted to sail around as long as we could. Again, we watched the sun go down, but we’d also arranged to have dinner on the boat. Mohammed was an excellent cook, there was almost too much food.
As Nanette’s house was almost finished, she became busier and we didn’t see as much of her. There was enough time to go on one last boat trip before we left though. This time, some of her local friends chartered a motor boat near Philae temple. We passed next to the temple and dropped anchor at a small deserted island.
All the guys went swimming, pulling Scott into the water too. They convinced Nanette to join them, but I decided to sit out this time. It was still Ramadan and as the sun went down, everyone began pulling out various boxes of food. Wives and mothers had spent hours preparing a huge feast, but most of the food was chicken.
Ramadan was almost over by this time, so everyone was especially hungry. In the rush to eat as much as possible, no one noticed that Scott and I only ate a small plate of salad. We stayed until dark. We said goodbye to Nanette, not realizing that we wouldn’t get to see her again before leaving.